NHL’s lack of domestic violence policy sets dangerous precedent

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The National Hockey League’s (NHL) lack of domestic violence policy sets a poor example for youth and sports fans worldwide. 
 
Although Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson pleaded no contest to a domestic assault charge in July, he’ll be back  on the ice sooner than anticipated. 
 
Watson was arrested after publicly pushing his girlfriend this summer. He was subsequently suspended by the NHL for 28 games. 
 
Last week, his girlfriend issued a statement  stating her alcoholism was to blame for the physical conflict. Shortly after, the NHL’s arbitrator reduced Watson’s suspension to 18 games. 
 
The decision was based on the case at hand, because the NHL—one of the four  major North American sports leagues and among the wealthiest in the world—has no written domestic violence policy. 
 
The NHL’s mishandling of Watson’s case is indicative of a bigger problem in sports.
 
When an athlete is the perpetrator, North American professional sports leagues’ domestic violence policies are consistent only in their inadequacy and subjectivity.
 
Most of these leagues  have vague or non-existent domestic violence policies. The consequences players face are inconsistent. In most disciplinary cases, players are allowed to return to their respective teams sooner rather than later. 
 
Watson’s reduced suspension indicates the NHL ranks player performance and profit over human decency. 
 
The NHL released a statement expressing  their disappointment with the arbitrator’s decision and reaffirmed their commitment to justice—yet they fail to establish standardized policy condemning domestic violence by players.
While Watson’s suspension also suspends his income, his on-ice talent is worth millions of dollars. A brief suspension doesn’t materially punish a player. 
 
Until the NHL writes a policy, domestic violence by players will continue. The league needs to set a public standard by acknowledging the issue and taking constructive steps to mitigate it. 
 
Watson’s immunity as a player is indicative of a larger societal problem—and this isn’t confined to the NHL alone. 
In 2017, hockey player and Queen’s student Chance Macdonald was charged with sexual assault—but, met with a sympathetic judge who also played hockey, his sentencing was delayed so he wouldn’t lose his internship. 
 
As these biases play out in our own community, the NHL’s poor example is indicative of a larger systemic problem. 
Many children dream of growing up to be professional athletes. As they look up to players who flout the law with no repercussions, they learn from that violent behaviour. 
 
Domestic violence cannot be tolerated, whether you shoot a puck or dribble a ball. This is a rampant problem requiring strict rehabilitative policy and unbiased internal investigation. 
 
Without sports league collaboration to forge policy, the NHL will continue to ignore the voices of domestic violence survivors—and teach children this behaviour is acceptable.
 
—Journal Editorial Board

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